This week in: American Football – Week 12

Aaron Rodgers leads his Packers team in to Detroit for the early Thanksgiving Day game

Coming in to Thanksgiving week, all the NFL teams now have 6 games to play and the race for the playoffs is starting to shape up.  In the NFC, the Packers (North) and 49ers (West) have large leads in their divisions which are unlikely to be overturned (three and five games respectively) – both Green Bay, with a 35-26 win over the Buccaneers, and the 49ers, who beat the Cardinals 23-7 in Arizona, continued their winning streaks last week. In the South, New Orleans have a one game lead over the Falcons after Atlanta beat the Titans on Sunday, while New Orleans had their bye week – the two teams meet for a game that could decide the division in Louisiana, in the penultimate week of the season.  The East is the closest division in the NFC, as the Giants and Cowboys each have six wins and four losses thus far.  The Eagles, who beat New York on their own turf last Sunday, are just two games back despite a 4-6 record, but a loss to the Patriots this weekend would see them all but knocked out of playoff contention.  Dallas extended their winning streak to three games by squeaking past Washington in overtime last Sunday and are the form team in the East, but the division will likely be decided by two games between the Cowboys and the Giants in the last four weeks of the season.

The Wild Card spots in the NFC are currently occupied by two teams from the North, the Lions and the Bears – but Chicago will be without their quarterback, Jay Cutler, for the remainder of the regular season, as he fractured his thumb during last week’s win over the Chargers.  Detroit have three very tough games left on the schedule, at New Orleans and their two games against the Green Bay Packers, but if they win their other fixtures (home to Minnesota and San Diego, at Oakland), the Lions will probably clinch one of the playoff berths.  If the Bears lose ground without Cutler, Atlanta are the team most likely to benefit – aside from their Week 16 trip to New Orleans, the Falcons have a favourable schedule to the end of the season: Minnesota, @Houston (who are without their first choice QB, Matt Schaub), @Carolina, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay.  As the only other two teams in serious contention for a Wild Card spot, the Giants and the Cowboys, have two games with each other left in their battle for the East, ten wins is likely to be enough to make the playoffs for Detroit, Chicago or Atlanta – my prediction is the Bears will be the team to miss out.

The AFC is much more tightly bunched than the NFC, with every team – other than the 0-10 Colts – having a record between 3-7 and 7-3.  In the North, the Ravens beat the Bengals last week to tie Pittsburgh for first with a 7-3 record, Baltimore has the head-to-head lead after beating their divisional foes twice this season.  Both teams are on course for the playoffs, while Cincinnati, who still have to play both of the teams above them again this season, will struggle to hold on to a Wild Card spot.  The AFC West is a hard division to predict, the Raiders currently have a one game lead over the Broncos after both teams won last week – Oakland triumphed in Minnesota, while Tim Tebow’s last-minute rushing touchdown helped Denver come from behind to beat the NY Jets.  Tebow may often look like he has no idea how to throw a spiral with a football, but somehow he has led his team to four wins in their last five games and back into playoff contention.  A trip to San Diego this week, to face a Chargers team who have lost five in a row, could see the Broncos move to a winning record, something that seemed impossible little more than a month ago.  New England have started to play more like the Patriots of old, consecutive wins over the Jets and the Chiefs have given them a two game lead in the East as New York and Buffalo have faltered after strong starts.  If the season had started a couple of months later, the Dolphins would be serious playoff contenders – their win over the Bills last week was their third in a row – but alas, there were seven games before that, all of which ended in losses for Miami.  Houston, as noted above, have to play the remainder of the year without their starting Quarterback, after Matt Schaub went down in an injury to his right foot.  The Texas have a two game cushion in the AFC South over the Titans and their strong running game should help replacement QB, Matt Leinart, as he tries to guide them to the playoffs.  If Houston does lose ground without Schaub, their final week matchup with Tennessee could decide who wins the division.

With either Baltimore or Pittsburgh both likely to make the playoffs, one as a division winner, the remaining Wild Card spot is going to be a fight between several teams, with no clear favourite at the moment.  The 6-4 Bengals are in pole position right now, but their aforementioned tough schedule could be a hinderance – meaning that any one of the 5-5 teams could claim a place in the playoffs.  That list includes the Jets, Bills, Broncos and Titans, while those on 4-6 (Chiefs, Chargers and Browns) cannot be ruled out if any of them go on a winning streak.

This week’s games include three on Thanksgiving Thursday, starting with the undefeated Packers going to play the lunchtime game in Detroit against the resurgent Lions.  Also on Turkey Day, there is a matchup of two teams who have won their last three games, as the Dolphins face the Cowboys in Dallas, and the evening game sees the first ever NFL fixture in which the two head coaches are brothers – Jim Harbaugh takes his 49ers team to Baltimore to play his older brother, John’s, Ravens side.  Sunday’s games feature only one fixture in which both teams have winning records – Chicago at Oakland, though neither has their starting quarterback available after injuries.  The Bills travel to New Jersey to take on the Jets, a loss for either team will probably push them out of contention for a Wild Card; there is an all-Ohio battle in Cincinnati as the Bengals host the Browns; the Colts still looking for their first win of the season, are at home to the Panthers; and the Giants play the Saints in New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

Predictions

Last week, 7-7; Season 84-76

Home Teams in Bold

Thanksgiving Day Games

Packers -6.5 over Lions

Dolphins +6.5 over Cowboys

Ravens -3.5 over 49ers

Favre’s team -21.5 over rest of Family – Okay this one is not real, but would you want to be against Brett Favre in Thursday’s back yard Thanksgiving Day football game somewhere in Gulfport, Mississippi?  The first year since 1990 he has not been in the NFL, I’m guessing number 4 throws deep all afternoon – or he’ll be lobbying the Bears to sign him to replace Cutler…

Sunday

Falcons -9.5 over Vikings

Bills +8.5 over Jets

Bengals -7.5 over Browns

Buccaneers +3.5 over Titans

Panthers -3.5 over Colts

Cardinals +3.5 over Rams

Jaguars +3.5 over Texans

Raiders -4.5 over Bears

Seahawks -4.5 over Redskins

Broncos +6.5 over Chargers

Patriots -4.5 over Eagles

Steelers -10.5 over Chiefs

Monday

Saints -6.5 over Giants

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